COLUMBUS, Ohio – If the United States loses to Guatemala on Tuesday, the Americans almost certainly would fail to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.
“There’s a sense of urgency tomorrow night because we need three points now,” U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann said Monday.
After playing in seven straight World Cups, the Americans put their streak in jeopardy with a 2-0 loss Friday night in Guatemala City, where mistakes led to a pair of goals in the first 15 minutes. The Americans had been unbeaten in 21 games against Guatemala since 1988.
“We came back here in a must-win situation,” U.S. forward Clint Dempsey said.
Trinidad and Tobago (2-1) leads Group C with seven points at the halfway point, Guatemala (2-0-1) is one point back, the U.S. (1-1-1) has four points and St. Vincent (0-3) is last. The top two teams advance to the six-nation finals of North and Central America and the Caribbean.
With Trinidad likely to win at home against St. Vincent, another loss to No. 95 Guatemala would leave the 30th-ranked U.S. five points out of second place with two games left. And Guatemala finale is at home against 141st-ranked St. Vincent.
Even with a tie, the U.S. would be in trouble — probably needing No. 49 Trinidad to win its home game against Guatemala in September. The Americans’ remaining matches are at St. Vincent on Sept. 2 and home against T&T four days later.
“All these experiences along the way you use to help you get through,” U.S. captain Michael Bradley said. “You have to understand that somewhere along the way, maybe twice, you’re playing in a game where your lives depend on it. Certainly that’s the case tomorrow night.”
Midfielder Alejandro Bedoya, who played the full match Friday, has a sore ankle, and it is unclear whether he will be available.
Klinsmann brought in defender Graham Zusi and 17-year-old midfielder Christian Pulisic in place of injured defender Matt Besler and midfielder Fabian Johnson.
Klinsmann was criticized for his lineup Friday, which had Geoff Cameron at right back instead of central defender, DeAndre Yedlin in midfield instead of at right back and Michael Orozco in central defense though he has not played this year for Tijuana. In addition, Klinsmann started goalkeeper Tim Howard, who lost his job at Everton and had not played since Jan. 24.
In keeping with Klinsmann’s rotation plan, Brad Guzan is to start in goal on Tuesday.
“I’m not playing anybody out of position,” Klinsmann said. “I know that Geoff Cameron can play right back and center back. I know that Yedlin can play right winger and right back. This is a good thing for us to have because we try to put the pieces together the best way possible in order for them to fit. Having that option with certain players — Fabian Johnson as a fullback or as a midfielder, which he does the same thing in transitioning in either position with his club team — is good for us.”
The forecast is for a 54-degree temperature, 14 degrees below Friday night’s reading. The U.S. is 7-0-3 at Mapfre Stadium (formerly Crew Stadium), including 6-0-2 in qualifiers.
“Certainly Columbus, when you look back at the history, there’s something special here,” Bradley said. “It’s a bit of mystique. Teams come here and know a little bit about that history and look at our record when we played here and they know they’re going to be in for a tough night.”
The U.S. was in a similar position in the standings four years ago, when it had three points after three matches and was coming off a loss at Jamaica that had some questioning Klinsmann’s decisions. The Americans responded with a 1-0 home win over the Reggae Boyz.
At home, the Americans are unbeaten in 28 consecutive qualifiers (26-0-2) since a 3-2 loss to Honduras in September 2001 at Washington, D.C.
“We hope the fans, from time we step on the field for warm-ups, can give us a real boost in terms of energy, life, passion,” Bradley said. “Make this a place from the time they get here, Guatemala knows they’re not coming away with anything.”
Defender Hamilton Lopez and forward Carlos Ruiz traveled with Guatemala to Columbus after visa and legal issues were settled. Ruiz, 36, scored Los Chapines’ second goal Friday, bursting past the U.S. back line.
“He’s got experience, he’s clever,” Cameron said. “He looks for fouls. He kills the game off, slows it down, tries to dictate it to their pace.”